‘WE WANT to make this the greatest commemoration of the First World War the city has ever seen’.
This is the vow being issued by the organisers of the Portsmouth’s Remembrance this year, as The News today reveals their ambitious plan.
This is the most ambitious commemoration service of the First World War ever planned by PortsmouthCouncillor Donna Jones, Portsmouth City Council leader
And those behind the effort have insisted the tribute honouring all of the city’s fallen heroes will be one of the most sensational spectacles in all of Britain.
Spearheaded by the Pompey Pals Project, the proposal has already had hundreds of hours of planning pumped into it by the charity.
Bob Beech, who is one of the leaders at the Portsmouth-based organisation, said: ‘We’re determined to make this the biggest the city has ever seen and one of the greatest the country has ever seen.
‘Portsmouth played a huge part in the Great War and sacrificed so much. Now Portsmouth will play a huge part in remembering all those who have fallen.’
This year’s nationwide event will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, a conflict that almost wiped out a generation of Britons and left millions dead worldwide.
And to honour the city’s dead, Portsmouth will screen every single name of the thousands killed from the area on the big screen in Guildhall Square – almost 7,000 in all.
Expected to take place on Armistice Day, the spectacle is just one of a host of events set to dot the centenary anniversary commemorations.
Also on the cards ia a 24-hour guard of honour, made up of volunteers, emergency service workers, military personnel and schoolchildren by the city’s war memorial.
It will be the first time such a tribute will have happened in Portsmouth, Mr Beech said – and he hopes to get the entire community involved.
He added: ‘Our aim is to make everyone in the city proud of what we achieved and to remember those who sacrificed everything for us.’
And in preparation for the commemorations, Pompey Pals has united with Portsmouth City Council, which has thrown its weight behind the plans.
The authority has been working with the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to be one of the official national commemoration events.
City council chief, Councillor Donna Jones is convinced the scale of the event will be unprecedented.
‘This is the most ambitious commemoration service of the First World War ever planned by Portsmouth,’ she said.
‘Britain played a key role in establishing peace across Europe and many men from this city gave their lives in that pursuit of peace and stability.
‘We are hugely grateful for this and as a city, Portsmouth will be commemorating the courage of all those lost in the best way possible.’
Pompey Pals’ Alan Laishley has spent hundreds of hours painstakingly researching the time and date of those killed from the war.
Others in the charity, including Gareth Lewis and Chris Pennycock, have also been key in pulling together the commemorations, Mr Beech said.
November’s Remembrance service will be the grand finale of the year-long tribute.
But Mr Beech said there will be a host of ceremonies to mark key moments in the final year of the conflict, which ended in 1918 with Germany’s surrender on Armistice Day. They include:
n March 21: Marking all those killed during the Ludendorff Offensive – the final big push by the Germans to end the First World War.
n April 23: Commemorating the Royal Navy’s heroic blocking raid on Belgium port of Zeebrugge. The site was a key base to launch the German Imperial Navy’s fleet of U-boats. The offensive saw eight men being awarded Britain’s top medal for valour, the Victoria Cross.
n August 9: Tributes will be paid to mark the final 100 days of the war when the German offensive was finally halted and the Allies were able to press forward to victory.
The revelation of the programme comes ahead of the opening of the Pompey Pals Project’s first museum at Fort Widley in Easter, It will be dedicated to telling the stories of those involved in the war.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said the museum was a great addition to the city, which had the highest volunteer rate during the war.
She added: ‘It would be fitting that a community with such a heritage and with such passion to remember should be a focal point for the nation.’
The war claimed the lives of 8,500,000 people, including 6,935 from Portsmouth. However, including those who died of their injuries after the war ended, the toll is about 7,500.